Sunday, September 24, 2006

Doubled-Die State Quarters! How can this be?

I must admit, the continuing discoveries of doubled-die state quarters had me baffled. The last time I checked there were almost 40 different doubled-die varieties with the Minnesota quarter alone. But I actually became baffled after the very first state quarter doubled-die was discovered. Why? Because as of 1997, the U.S. Mint changed the process with how they create working dies that was supposed to eliminate the possibility of doubled-dies. So how can there even be one doubled-die variety, let alone dozens? So I did some investigating.

Definition of Doubled-Die

A doubled-die is the doubling of some design element on the coin. If it’s on the obverse, you will see it referred to as a doubled-die obverse (DDO); on the reverse it’s a doubled-die reverse (DDR).

Here is an example from my Arlington Collection of Type 1 Double Eagles:




This is an 1859-S DDO $20 Double Eagle. The doubling of the design shows up best in the word LIBERTY.

Die Making Process

To understand how doubled-dies occurred prior to 1997, you must first understand a couple of basics about die making. Briefly, dies that are used to strike coins are made from hubs that contain a coin’s design elements in positive relief; that is the elements are raised on the hub just as they would be on the coin. The hub is pressed into the die (called hubbing) in order to transfer the design into a die in negative or incused relief; that is the elements are sunken into the die in a mirror image to that of the coin. In order to receive a sharp, detailed design, the die would have to be hubbed multiple times.

Generally, the die making process included creating a master hub which was used to create a master die. From the master die, multiple working hubs were created. These working hubs were used to create working dies and these dies were used to strike the coins. It was during these transfers from hub to die, or vice versa, that the hubbing process allowed for the possibility of doubled-dies. This usually occurred when the hub was misaligned with a die on subsequent hubbings.

Definition of Doubled-Date (aka Repunched Date, not to be confused with Doubled-Dies)

Another type of doubling occurred with repunched dates (RPD). In earlier times, dates were not part of the hub’s design, but were hand punched into each die used to strike the coins. Punching the date a second time with a misaligned punch could cause a doubled-date variety.

Again, here is an example from my Arlington Collection of Type 1 Double Eagles:




This is an 1854 Small Date Doubled-Date $20 Double Eagle. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the date was first punched too high and the second punch was positioned correctly. You can see the doubling at the tops of the 1, 5, and 4.

In the early 20th century, the dates were incorporated into the master dies so that RPDs became a thing of the past. This is why the 1955 Lincoln cent that shows a doubled-date occurred from a doubled-die.

Conclusion

So in 1997, the U.S. Mint changed the die making process into a single squeeze process. This meant that a die was made from a single squeeze from the hub versus the multiple squeezes it took in the past. Logically, what this should have done was eliminate the possibilities of doubled-dies.

So, how can we now have dozens of doubled-die state quarters? How is this possible? I had heard explanations that ranged from “more people are looking for errors than ever before” to “quality control at the mint has changed to where they don’t look for really minor errors anymore”. But these don’t answer the question. How are doubled-dies possible today with the “single squeeze” process? I’ve heard two scenarios that make sense to me.

The first scenario is the simplest. For some reason or other, the single squeeze process does not do the job the first time requiring an additional squeeze which is misaligned.

The second scenario that I’ve heard is due to the fact that the die blank is not actually flat but somewhat cone shaped with the center sticking out further than the edges. I’ve seen a picture of these die blanks and they look something like an artillery shell. If the die blank and hub are not positioned correctly, the die and hub shift into their correct positions from pressure after the initial contact between them. So the doubled design elements are from the initial contact just before the hub and die repositioned back into alignment.

If this second scenario is true, I would think that this would cause doubling to be restricted to the central areas of the design. This does seem to be the case with the Minnesota quarter varieties I’ve seen, but I’m a little more skeptical with the new doubled-die Oregon that has been discovered. In this case some of the doubling is away from the central area suggesting that the first scenario may be more likely.

Whatever the actual reason for the large numbers of doubled-dies now appearing, the only thing certain is that the new single squeeze process that was supposed to make doubled-dies extinct is doing just the opposite. It will be interesting to see how all these varieties affect the way people collect state quarters, and what types of premiums, if any, will appear on each variety.

And where will the Minnesota varieties stop? With a mintage of close to a ½ billion for the P and D mints combined, I’d be willing to bet it’s definitely less than that!

Recommended Reading:
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of Washington & State Quarters (Official Red Book)

Cherrypickers' Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins: Half Dimes Through Dollars, Gold, and Commemoratives (Official Whitman Guidebook)

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